How to Make Shade for the Chicken Coop
The Australian heat can be relentless, particularly in summer. Just like humans and pets, chickens require an escape from the direct heat. Plenty of deep shade is important to keep your chickens healthy and productive when the temperature rises. It can even help prevent heat stress!
Ideally your chicken run should have:
- Proper deep shade: You’ll notice that the shade under certain trees is cooler. This is because it is deep shade. Many eucalypts, for example, provide only light shade because the leaves droop away from the sun to protect the tree. It is like the difference between 50 % shade-cloth and 90 % shade-cloth. In summer, your chooks want the 90 %!
- Several different shade areas: Bullying and other issues arise when chickens are forced to hang out together. And fights are caused when lower ranking birds invade the personal space of higher ranking birds. Several shade areas with plenty of room for all birds to have a bubble of personal space can prevent any issues.
- Midday and afternoon shade: Chickens are most active in the morning before it heats up, and in the evening. But in the really hot parts of the day, shade is essential.
- Water in the shade: Chickens drink more when their water is cool, so that means shaded water. On real scorchers, even walking from the shade to a Waterer can stop chooks from drinking enough and contribute to dehydration.
When adding shade to your run, keep in mind that chickens still need sunlight for vitamin D. And a sunny dust-bath is the best for parasite control. Additionally, the sun will dry out the run after rain and keep parasite loads in check. So you still want areas of full sun, year round. Above all, anywhere that water tends to collect.
What is the best shade for a chicken run?
Of course, the best shade in the chicken run is a combination of trees and understory plants. They not only provide natural shade, but also forage, hidey-holes, amusement, perches, insects…
Deciduous trees are ideal because they provide shade in the summer and sunlight in the winter, the leaf-litter is a foraging favourite, and many provide dense shade. When choosing shade trees for the run, the trick is to avoid trees with light or dappled shade, or to plant underneath with shrubs and bushes.
But if you don't have established trees in your run, there are plenty of easy DIY shade options that you can use. So plant a few trees - you can find our favourite plants for the chicken run here - and knock up a shade structure to help your chickens keep cool until the trees grow.
Easy DIY Shade for the Chicken Run
Here are a few easy DIY shade options that you can knock up in an afternoon to get your chooks through the hottest part of summer. The best part, most of these options can be made with up-cycled or found materials
A Haybale Igloo
A few bales of hay, straw or sugarcane mulch can make a nice, shady igloo that will last 1-2 seasons. And when the bales start to show their age, you have garden mulch!
Build your igloo two bales high and provide some ventilation at the top, to allow hot air to rise and exit. Have the igloo open at both ends and facing the wind (but not the sun!) for the best ventilation.
Our neighbours build a 4-bale igloo, with sides that are one bale long and two bales high. This provides enough shade for their small flock.
You can use more bales for the roof; they provide good insulation but tend to bow unless you put a couple 2x4s underneath for support. Using old building materials for the roof makes for a wider igloo with better airflow. Tin or timber are good but the best roof we’ve seen was offcuts from roofing panels that sandwich Styrofoam insulation with tin. The DIY version is breaking down a few Styrofoam boxes (e.g. broccoli boxes from your local fruit store) and sandwiching them between wood or tin. The only catch is that chooks will eat Styrofoam, so the edges need to be sealed or out of reach.
Igloos can also become haybale garden beds. Just made a space between two flakes, add a couple handfuls of compost, and plant a quick-growing vine like a choko or passionfruit. Make a wire cage to protect the vine from the chickens and it will cover the igloo, providing extra shade and forage. Just don’t plant anything you don’t want to pull out when the igloo comes apart!
This great igloo was built by Jen, one of our wonderful customers.
Repurposed buildings and furniture
Almost any unused building or old furniture can become shade for the chooks! Some of our favourites include:
- Garden sheds
- Bali huts
- Large chests or toolboxes
- Outdoor tables
- Old beach tents or umbrellas (check the shade – cheap ones don’t really provide that much)
A shade-cloth shelter is also a good option for chooks. Go for 80 or 90% shade but don’t cover the whole run. Tie the cloth up like a shade sail, or make a frame. Bamboo teepees and old table frames without the top work well.
We like adding a shade-cloth roof to a large part of the run during summer, to keep the chooks cool, and taking it down in winter to allow more sunlight and to keep the ground dry.
Plants (that you can put in now)
Although planting shade trees now isn't going to help you this summer, there are a few shade-giving plants that will grow prolifically if you have the time and inclination to water regularly.
If you are planting in the run, you will need to protect the plants from scratching. You may also need to prevent the chickens from eating all the leaves, at least until the plant is well-established. Sometimes the easiest option is planting just outside the run and training the plants up the fence and over a structure set next to the fence.
Great annual plants for shade include densely-planted beans, use climbing beans in temperate areas and snake beans in the tropics, luffas, trombocinos and New Guinea beans.
Chokos and passionfruit are more permanent plants, surviving 2-3 years or more. They are much heavier than beans, so will need a sturdier frame to grow over. However, they also provide a lot of shade in most climates. They should establish and grow quickly now if provided with plenty of fertiliser and water.
Pigeon pea is another quick growing shrub or small tree that can go from seedling to a couple of metres tall in a season, providing good shade. These don't live forever, but they're a great short-term shade option and provide forage too!
Dave's chicken coop is beautifully cool thanks to that wonderful passionfruit:
Make a project for the kids
Why not get the kids involved in building a palapa or teepee? Palm fronds, banana leaves, willow cuttings and bamboo can all be used to make a semi-permanent shade structure (its longevity depends on your materials and skill). All you need is a frame and some twine, e.g. repurposed baling twine.
It probably won’t last longer than the season, and may need repairs. But for kids who love building cubbies, why not channel that energy into some shade for the chooks!
And don't forget to plant for next year!
You know what they say? The best time to plant a tree is yesterday. The second best time is today. So why not put in a few shade trees now so that next summer your run will be cooler and shadier. Here is a list of some of our favourite dual purpose plants, providing both forage and shade for the chicken run.
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia